Renovation preserves classic features in Hintonburg home, adds dash of whimsy & color

As Emma Doucet tells it, it was the success of her first major renovation project — the makeover of her century-old Hintonburg house — that launched her second career as a designer-builder.

The red-brick house was, as they say in the business, a real project — a fixer-upper that needed enough work that the sellers had lowered the price three times before Doucet and her husband took the plunge, buying in 2006. Doucet then began a four-month renovation that saw her completely revamp the kitchen (opening it up to the dining room) and redesign the bathrooms. Along the way, she also turned her attention to the many design details that today give her home a sense of warmth and fun — from mouldings to wallpaper to colourful artwork and dramatic chandeliers.

Doucet chose to mix and match colourful Emeco Navy chairs. First produced in 1944, they are “sturdy, practical and, most importantly, cheerful”. The table, made from reclaimed wood, pays homage to the age of the house. This is an original pocket door and mouldings, but Doucet carefully replicated the look in other rooms on the main floor. Doucet loves chandeliers, saying she considers them to be “installation art for a room.” The chandelier was discovered a decade ago at a now defunct antique store on Wellington Street. Doucet tied the dining and living rooms together by repeating both the paint colour on the walls and the bold patterned drapes. Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen

Built in the 1890s, the house had had only four owners, and many of its key features were left untouched. In the dining room, for instance, Doucet found some grand mouldings intact, while in the living room, a stately fireplace set the tone. Original wood floors, once sanded and preserved, added warmth and tied in to the heritage feel.

The tin ceiling references the age of the house, which dates to the 1890s. Doucet sanded and preserved the original wood floor after finding it under a few layers of linoleum during the renovation. Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen

While Doucet completely revamped the kitchen, she did so with an eye to the past, designing custom cabinets with a traditional bent and brush-painting them so that the brush strokes would be visible. Two-inch-thick wooden counters also harken back to the past, as does the pressed-tin ceiling. “The appliances may be modern, but the room has the feel of an old-school English kitchen,” she says. In a nod to the contemporary, she opened up the kitchen to the dining room, framing the space with mouldings that match the original doorway between the dining and living rooms.

Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen

Throughout, Doucet had fun with colours and textures, painting the walls in pale Farrow & Ball shades and adding visual interest with vibrant cushions and drapes. “I don’t like dark colours in older houses because they have lots of walls, so the result can be oppressive,” she explains. She added to the sense of brightness with eye-catching chandeliers and lively artworks.

In the music room, wallpaper is used as an eye-catching backdrop to the utilitarian shelving from Ikea. Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen
Dead space – such as a hallway – should always be filled with something useful — in this case, a kijiji find that provides extra storage. Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen

After spending her spare time over the next few years helping friends and family with their design challenges, the self-taught Doucet opened Grassroots Design + Build in 2012, working with carpenter Peter Copland to offer decorating, layout, and renovation services. Their specialty? Older houses in the city’s established neighbourhoods. “Peter can make any crooked floor look straight and any cabinet fit a not quite straight wall,” says Doucet with a laugh.

The sizeable bedroom shared by her daughters allowed Doucet to use a bold wallpaper and paint colour. The pretty beds, which were passed down by Doucet’s grandmother, were updated with new mattresses. Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen
Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen
Photo: Justin Van Leeuwen

For her part, Doucet appreciates older houses and the value in preserving their characters. The company name, Grassroots, references that sentiment, with the idea that good design must celebrate both the original house and the roots of the family that now lives there. “Design is a form of art,” she says. “Really, I want my clients to love their space in the present and feel connected to its history.”